Money and Spreadsheets

Money and Spreadsheets

Times are tough – as they always are when it’s the topic of money.  As such, financial experts and advisors tell people to create a budget and stick to it. Indeed, I hear a lot of people are tracking their money these days.  One of the best ways people do this is by creating a spreadsheet. If you set it up right, the spreadsheet will show you all the money you have going in, going out, seeking to save, and more. 

All there, in one neat place, your whole financial life can be seen and tracked. Sounds like a great idea on one hand, and, like most everything, it can also have a downside too.

Whenever I hear someone saying they are setting this up, it always sounds like a New Year’s Resolution – something to help break a bad pattern or to gain more control or to start a new leaf with money. It always seems to begin from the premise of improving one’s money circumstances. Something has gotten the person to feel that a spreadsheet will provide the solution needed to money ails.

On the surface, a spreadsheet tracking money can absolutely be something that is good and helpful in a person’s life. However, it is rarely the answer to stopping negative ways of interacting with money that reflects how we feel about ourselves. Instead, a spreadsheet can often act like a highlighter as to all that we do wrong, which can then lead into feeling bad about ourselves.

I would suggest asking yourself what is motivating you to track your money in such a concrete way? Is it to actually track your money or is it to highlight a part of yourself that you feel bad about already and this spreadsheet will serve as a tangible reminder of this “bad” part of you?

By asking yourself this question you can get a sense if tracking your money via spreadsheet is a healthy thing for you to undertake or is it just another tool to keep you tied to bad thoughts about yourself and others.

Be honest – as this may be the costliest decision of them all.

Doomscrolling

Doomscrolling. What a clever word for something many people are doing today.

Most of us were attached to our phones before the pandemic and political craziness of 2020 had taken hold. Yet, now something different is happening when we reach for our phones. It’s like the Temple of Doom.

We turn it on, head to our favorite social media sites, and go down the doom tunnel. A horrific article about the politics of the day to the ever-widening death toll from the pandemic to the economic havoc and mayhem — and that’s just the start. Another critical part of the doom scroll is reading all of the comments. I often think the comments grab us into doom more than the news itself.

All of a sudden, we are reading, scrolling, getting amped up, becoming anxious and depressed all at once — and it just keeps going. Compulsively we continue the doomscroll barely able to take a breath away from all we are reading. Someone told me he finally stops when there is no new doom to read. Seven hours in he takes leave of his phone!

This article in the Washington Post lays out what doomscrolling is and how to reign it in so you aren’t relying on the doom all day long. Some ideas in the article include changing your screen color to gray, spending limited amounts of time on-line in these ways, finding places on the Internet that offer the exact opposite of doom – like cute pictures of animals.

A few more ideas – actually purchase a real newspaper and read it. So old fashioned I know. Here though you can enjoy all of the news of the day without reading the comments of doom. Further, it provides space for your own good thinking about the article. Also, you are deciding what you will read in depth, skim, and skip altogether. Online reading is much more difficult to discern which is which for you on any given article as you may not be so interested, but you do want to hear what others think about it. Taking a more solo path can keep the doom at bay.

Also, choose your time of day for a good doomscroll. One where you are awake, active, and alert and not seeking rest and relaxation. Align yourself with the most energy you have to take it in and then leave plenty of time afterwards to let it all go. At night, keep your phone outside of your bedroom. Do not mindlessly reach for it, but keep in mind and value your sleep and rest over the doomscroll. Don’t worry all of the doom will be there waiting for you tomorrow.

We are wired to latch on to the bad and then worry to the nth degree about it all. We also our communal beings — we are drawn to know what someone else is thinking and then perhaps try that stance on and see if we feel the same way or not. However, this muddies the waters of knowing our own minds and trusting how we are thinking for ourselves. Reading without adopting how others are thinking about something is creating space for your own independent thinking. More important than ever these days.

Finally, doomscrolling is a time suck. It sucks you right down into the temple of doom and doesn’t let you go to actually live your life. There is less time for you. Sometimes I read the comments on news and its just on and on fighting and fighting and I think to myself do people really have so much time to fill arguing with strangers? Everyone is always saying how busy they are — is this what people are busy with? Or is doomscrolling a way to escape life that feels miserable? Sometimes I feel like attracts like. We feel our personal lives are doomed and so we seek out external doomscrolling to match this internal feeling.

Take a break and take stock. Life is lived in reality. Put the phone down, pick up a real paper, after a little bit of time, put the paper down, and go out and embrace your life. May it be full of Joy Living — hopefully steps — even miles — away form the doom.

Mental Health Crisis in America

Mental Health Crisis in America
Mental Health Crisis Brews in America

I read an interesting article the other day in the Washington Post regarding how the current COVID-19 pandemic is pushing America to the brink of a mental health crisis. I cannot even believe it has taken a severe public health crisis like this one for the media to begin to pick up on how difficult it is for Americans to find and receive quality mental health care today.

Sitting from the vantage point of a therapist, I know this to be true for many reasons. While most articles, like the one in the Post above, focus on access to mental health care, there is something else one has to first realize. Access to mental health care starts with clinicians who are in training to work in the field and serve people in need of mental health services.

It is an unfortunate truth and one not often discussed in the media that to do the work of a therapist, or, as the traditional license is called, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, is a costly and time-consuming journey. One cannot clinically practice one-on-one therapy with individuals without holding a Master’s Degree in counseling, social work, or marriage and family work. This type of degree takes 3-5 years to complete with significant amounts of debt taken on to complete the degree, upwards and over $100,000.

Along this journey, graduate students in training are called to do an internship with a significant number of clinical hours and supervision time spent in order to earn one’s degree. Although a person may have at least 2-3 years of training experience in school, one’s internship is unpaid. People must find paid jobs as they juggle their internship demands.

This is where it strikes me that the mental health system is failing at its core. Community Mental Health Agencies that serve the poor and mentally unwell, a segment of the population that would have very little access to mental health services, are staffed with interns from graduate schools who are seeing these people for free. The core of the mental health services offered to thousands of Americans is valued at an intern level who earn nothing.

From there, graduate students leave school and are permitted their first license. Where I live it is an Associate’s license, which means you have the ability to see patients, but you must be supervised for a set amount of hours as you work toward full licensure, which is additional hours. Often Associate Mental Health Counselors use this period of time to take clinician positions in mental health agencies. Now they are no longer serving for free, but for $17 to $23 per hour. The average case load for a new Clinician is upwards to 100 clients. Then add in the math of $100,000 of student loan debt.

It is from this vantage point that I see our mental health system failing in America. From the start, when people seek to train to become a mental health clinician, no value is given to the skills that they are learning and employing to help people with their mental health needs. From weighting people down with student loan debt, to not providing any value to the intern seeing clients, and then providing a very low income to the new clinician with a caseload that no one can keep up with — not only are the clinicians burned out, but the system is overwrought with little to no support for people who need tremendous care.

What happens after one has completed her Associate’s license requirements and you are now a fully licensed therapist? Unfortunately, most clinicians leave Community Mental Health and set up their own private practice. Even if the clinician charges a reduced fee, it is often three times the amount one was earning at the mental health agencies. It is unfortunate that the very poor and mentally unwell people in America are left to be churned through by clinicians who are in some training phase of their career burning out without proper care, support, or caseload numbers.

Insurance also plays a roll in the inequity of the Mental Health system in America. Are you in network and, if you are, your patients may benefit, but the Clinician will likely make very little money for their services when all is said and done. If you are out of network, then the Clinician works with the patient to determine the fee. A patient may submit a receipt to their insurance company which may provide them with a portion of the fee they have paid. In this way, the patient has to decide what can they afford given the insurance company will only be reimbursing some of the full fee and that is often after deductibles are met.

All of this to say that when we look at the mental health crisis in America, we need to critically think about how we value our clinicians in training as well as how we value the services provided to the mentally unwell, especially those accessing care through the community mental health agencies. It begins with both parties being valued and supported in terms of money and care.

Until this happens, the system is on crumbling crutches which is going to further lead to the black hole of inadequate care, funding, and a lack of people to serve during crisis such as the one we are in currently.

Dear Therapist: Pandemic Nightmares

Pandemic Nightmares
Pandemic Nightmares Are Real!

Dear Therapist,

Ever since this pandemic took over our lives I have been unable to sleep well and, when I do find sleep, I also find nightmares. Seriously, they are disturbing! Is there any way to alleviate these terrifying dreams. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t even want to fall asleep as I am scared of where my dreams will go — death, violence, isolation — this type of imagery is rampant for me. How to get good sleep during this time?

Sincerely, A Terrified Dreamer

This is so common. First, the inability to even get to sleep these days. This happens for a lot of reasons, including not maintaining one’s regular sleep regime, too many screens on too close to trying to sleep, worries and uncertainty on one’s mind — all leading to the inability to let go into an unconscious state and sleep. Which is critical to feeling rested and restored, bright and energetic to greet the next day.

Some tips on getting to sleep during this time include:

  1. Maintain your normal sleep time — when you go to bed and when you get up
  2. Turn off your screen well in advance of bedtime
  3. A better activity is actually reading a real book or working on an old fashioned puzzle with a pencil – activities that can ground
  4. If you have many worries on your mind, writing them down before sleep. In this way they become externalized. You are free to pick those worries back up again the very next morning, but writing them down and letting them breathe for the night outside of you may be helpful
  5. Engage in a ritual that will relax you like a salt bath, gentle stretching or a meditation to calm one’s self.
  6. Direct your dreams! (And this will lead into your nightmares) If there is something on your mind that you want to know about or an answer to, write it down on a piece of paper. Also, as you close your eyes, have this question on your mind and repeat it to yourself again and again. Often, this type of exercise is calling to your internal world to respond with an answer that is not conscious.

I mention this last idea of dream direction to help with the nightmares you are experiencing. All of us are carrying anxiety, worry, and, some of us, even terror over what is unfolding in our daily lives. We speak to it in a myriad of ways while we are awake during the day, and we are also speaking to it in our dreams. Deep down in the places we are not aware of, we are holding these worries and frights and they come out to haunt us in our nightmares.

I hear how terrifying they can be and that they are happening on a continual basis to the point that you do not want to even go to sleep. Engaging in steps #4 and #6 that I have noted above may help you set aside consciously the concerns you are feeling terrorized about as well as direct your mind to focus on something more interesting to you.

It will take some work to actively employ these strategies, but it may very well worth it to find not only sleep, but dreams that answer something on your mind, rather than terrorize you with worries. This is not just you — so many around the globe are being terrorized by their pandemic nightmares — you are not alone. I encourage you to take the steps above to help you sleep through this time of uncertainty that plagues us all.

Zoom Exhaustion

Zoom Exhaustion
Zoom Exhaustion Setting In?

When the idea of social distancing became a thing a few months ago, there was the idea that we could all stay connected to our family and friends even as we isolate ourselves in our home. All of a sudden “Zoom” became a thing. I had never heard of it before, but all of a sudden friends were holding Zoom Happy Hours, Zoom Book Clubs, Zoom Dinners, Zoom Movie Nights and then Zoom meetings and Zoom classes for work.

WOW! I had to marvel about the fact that COVID-19 came around when man had developed technology to a point where we could all remain together even as we are apart. It sounded brilliant and every chance I could get I said yes to a Zoom this and a Zoom that. Being together while never leaving my home sounded like the best of both possible worlds.

For myself, I noticed after the first couple, I was pretty exhausted. It felt hard to hear people, only one person could really be speaking at a time, and then everyone had to ring in with a different comment regarding what was said. To try and move on to another topic without giving everyone who spoke a good amount of time for comments and feedback felt rude.

One time, someone shared a tragic piece of health news that she may have wanted only a few people to know, but with everyone gathered at the Zoom Happy Hour, her entire health diagnosis was made clear to everyone. Awkward. I was holding information that I most likely should not have been and under any usual circumstance would not know.

Of course, there are also the technology challenges — slow Internet, bad connection, in and out voices, people muting themselves or not, people’ video popping on and off. I am also doing all of these things too which I know may be adding to someone else’s stressful experience. I think, by now, we all know the ups and downs of Zoom connections – whether for personal or professional use.

So, I guess I am not surprised that all of a sudden there are a slew of articles talking about Zoom Exhaustion. This may come after having been on virtual calls all day, being more anxious and needing time on your own to sort through your feelings, general annoyance at how clunky Zoom meetings feel, obligation to have to connect this way since everyone knows you are home and not going out with supposed time on your hands, and more.

How to handle? First notice do you want to socialize virtually? If so — and I do not assume that your answer is yet — then to what extent do you want to socialize virtually and how often? Once you have these questions answered you can stay true to yourself as you with accept or decline offers to engage virtually. For myself, I engage virtually for work completely.

As a result, in my personal life, I am not too keen to engage via Zoom for fun gatherings. Rather, I prefer to have telephone chats or FaceTime one-on-one with someone. I have been invited to several Zoom gatherings, and I now just tell my friends that I find it too stressful of a medium for me and that I won’t be joining. Of course, I ask them not to take offense and I think most people respond positively, i.e. to do what I need to do to care for myself.

All of us understanding how people are feeling stress and exhaustion even when it comes to social connecting with a medium like Zoom is really important. If you are the person who is setting up the Zoom calls and want to connect, it’s important to take care of you and have the people on the Zoom who really want to be there and not just attending out of obligation to the group.

Everything is a balance, including Zoom calls these days. Remember too, if you are going to engage, keep some Zoom Etiquette guidelines in mind to make the experience good for everyone.

Zoom Exhaustion is real. Respect it and take care of yourself above all. And let us all look forward to the day we can hang out together.

Dear Therapist: No Job No More

No Jobs No More

Dear Therapist:

I am out of work like 16 million other Americans at this time. I don’t feel alone, but I am scared. I don’t know how long this will last and whether will there even be a job to return to when this mess is over? Nothing is certain, except the bills I have to pay. Any suggestions on how to handle this type of stress? I am glad to be one of many, but I am scared to death wondering if I will make it?

Sincerely, Frightened Along With Everyone Else

It is a terribly bleak situation. The numbers have gone through the roof for people and small businesses applying for government benefits that will sustain them during this time of crisis. That’s the first place one must put her energy – filing for unemployment, applying for small business loans and grants, and waiting on your check from the government to help ease the pain of today.

However, I also hear your concern over the unknown facts of when will this even be over and when it is over will there be your old job to return to or will that job be gone? Those are two huge uncertain elements for everyone at this time. We cannot yet know when the orders to “shelter in place” will be officially lifted, then what businesses will reopen, and how the public responds to business being back to normal, if in fact this is the plan that is happening.

The unknowns are the worst in a situation like this and that drives anxiety. Collectively, I think American society is on edge not only out of concern for our health, but also the financial cost of the crisis that is impacting so many people like yourself.

Grounding yourself in the moment with what you do know is one of the best courses of action for now. You and I both don’t know the answers to some of these major questions. We can focus on what we don’t know or we can be in the moment right now and take care of what needs to be taken care of in the here and now. It may be difficult, but just navigating the applications alone for assistance will take up a large chunk of time. Not only will you feel like you are moving forward by completing those tasks, your energy will also be focused.

Breathing in four counts through your nose and four counts out of your mouth four to five times can also aid in slowing down and grounding in the here and now. Although this is a terribly anxious time, we can find ways to soothe and calm our worries in the here and now and I encourage you to do so.

How to End Your Quarantine Day

Clapping At End of the Day
Clap Away!

Here’s an idea to help you end your quarantine day on an upbeat note, one that will not only lift your spirits, but perhaps those around you as well.

Clap!

Apparently, in NYC, people around 7 pm are lifting their windows up and clapping for all of the essential workers serving during this important time in history. Not only does the clap offer a daily release at the end of the day that is fueled by gratitude, but it engages your neighbors to do the same, and anyone who hears and is a front-line worker can hear the appreciation loud and clear.

I don’t think it only has to be clapping, you could also sing a song, or yell out, “How are you?” to your neighbors. The point is to engage your community by collectively coming together in a way that is distant and safe and making an expression of gratitude for all to hear. It may become a daily ritual that you look forward to.

This idea is sweeping the nation. Give it a try and then check in and see how that was for you. Of course, there are many quieter ways to express gratitude, write a letter, donate to a food bank, reach out to someone who feels lonely or forgotten, support a local business that is still open, and more. Perhaps it is just something we can be mindful of each day of this quarantine.

Do something – whether loud or quiet – to appreciate all that you have and all that others are giving right now.

Virus Anxiety

Anxious Woman

The times we are living in are anxiety-provoking in general. Politics, resources, climate, and every day stressors seem to increase on an almost daily basis. And now, a pandemic comes along and hits our lives as well as the people we know and love in our community with full force. People are sick and a virus is spreading like a wildfire.

Many of us have been ordered to work from home, children are also being kept at home from school, nursing homes and hospitals have quarantined their residents, and large gatherings of people are no longer permitted. Beyond that, the economic impact is being felt by many who need to go to work to get paid, who do not have childcare options, who do not have insurance — quite simply put, most Americans know it is too expensive to get sick.

From the business angle, many people are just not going out to shop, to eat, to watch movies or just about anything else. The grocery stores are busy with people stocking up on supplies for at least two weeks, but that’s about it. A ghost town effect is severely hurting the ability of local business to stay open. Our communities may not look the same after this virus recedes with so many closings.

If you have anxiety brought on by this recent virus, it is understandable. The Washington Post just ran an article about it and I don’t think you necessarily have to have been diagnosed with an official anxiety disorder to feel anxiety about this virus. Will we get it? Do my loved ones have it? That cough I just coughed, is that the virus? When will things get back to normal? Will any of it be normal again? How will I pay my bills? All of these questions and more can make our minds and bodies extremely anxious.

Top tips for relieving anxiety are discussed in the article above, and I want to add a few of my own:

  • You may be isolated in your home from your work community and friends, but technology is wonderful in times like these. Make a point to reach out and check in through tech on a regular basis.
  • Go to your breath and breathe. Four counts in through your nose and four counts out through your mouth will help to slow you down. Your breath is always available to you for free. Let it help keep you calm during this time.
  • Try to keep some things normal for yourself. Walking your dog, getting some errands done, keeping to your daily routine of waking up and heading to bed, and other parts of life that can be maintained as you would normally would live will help give you something concrete to hold on to during this time.

There are many ways to calm anxiety from meditation, to nutrition, to exercise and more. Choose one or more that works well for you and do it. All things pass in due time. Keep this in mind at all times.

Be well!

Eco Anxiety: Finding Hope in Hopelessness

Our Precious Earth

I was reading an interesting article last week on Eco Anxiety and how it is being felt by Generation Z. I have been curious to read an article like this one given the dire circumstances our environment is in these days. As school-aged children take in the news, I have been curious as to how they are dealing with the news and what it all may mean for their future on Earth.

The term eco-anxiety was new to me, but it also seems to capture the concern well. It’s a term coined and defined as “chronic fear of environmental doom.” With wildfires burning out of control, hurricanes destroying major cities on a regular basis, mass migration of people across the globe for political reasons, news headlines of starving wildlife, and the UN putting out reports that humans have 12 years to solve the crisis or we are all doomed, I can see why younger generations are feeling anxiety. What is their future going to look like if there is no planet to sustain them?

The article discusses in some depth how parents, teachers, and other adults can offer hope to the youth even when all of the news and statistics point to hopelessness. How does one manage her eco-anxiety?

It seems one of the best ways to help youth allay their alarmist fears is to talk about the environment in an open and honest manner. And to keep talking. Looking at the issue from a historical lens on how we got here and preparing them to critically think about ways to approach the environmental crisis differently than past generations. There is hope because they are young and have an opportunity to bring new ideas to the situation.

Still, managing eco-anxiety is something that all of us need to engage in. Even if we are middle to old age people, the planet is where we all live and her well-being parallels our own. So, instead of swinging from catastrophe to denying that there is a problem, finding a “middle space” where one can weigh up the issue and think through solutions on personal, communal, and societal levels seems to be a place of healthy management for one’s eco-anxiety.

I found it interesting to read in this article how young people feel resistant to having to take it on at all — that older generations should be the ones protecting them and the planet. They have homework to do, dates to make, sports to play, and colleges to apply for. Why should they have to be the ones to be bothered? Good question.

Being a member of Generation X, I can say, when I was young, I also wanted to enjoy my youth and time as a teen. When I say that no one worried about the environment back then, I really mean it. Recycling came in to the suburban neighborhoods sometime in the 80s and most people didn’t even engage in it too much. It was slow to dawn on any of us that we needed to stop using plastic, recycle, conserve resources, and more. Am I proud of this? No. Is this the same tug and pull Generation Z is feeling – yes. They too want the luxury of burying their heads in the sand and living life without these environmental cares.

And now time is running out. If some generation does not care, it is going to be too late. Still, balancing one’s own life with the greater concerns seems to be the way to manage eco-anxiety. Otherwise, Generation Z will become like all of the generations before — except the planet may not be able to sustain it.

The end of the article, a parent hugs her child and apologizes to her — apologizes for not having done something more to solve the crisis. I am not sure anyone needs to apologize, rather we need to dialogue honestly and work together to preserve our planet and maintain its health. Eco-anxiety will paralyze us into denial and overwhelm. Planet Earth will be more harmed by this more than anything else.

We are the hope.

Vandalism at the Cathedral

St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral is my church home in Seattle, WA. With a strong mission surrounding social justice in our immediate community and beyond, St. Mark’s serves all, members of its congregation and everyone else. And I do meant everyone else. It is a welcoming place for every single person in our community – whether a believer or not.

How rare to find such a place today, particularly one that is associated with a religious denomination. But we have it right here in Seattle.

That is why my heart has been saddened by the senseless vandalism of its beautiful cathedral recently. Yes, this is what was written on the Cathedral outdoor walls. I can’t make sense of who would do such a thing – but there are many random, awful events happening in America and all the world over today. I guess it has always been happening, but with our cameras on hand and everyone sharing across social media, it’s not easy to hide these horrific acts of violence.

Luckily, it was just the church building – so much worse has happened in churches across America recently.

What do you make of it all? Does it stress you out to see such violence brought against a loving organization that serves the community? How do you make sense of these seemingly small acts of terror taking place each day?

For me, I find it necessary to keep my eyes, ears, and heart open. However, I often want to close it out and not look. How much easier would life be if I didn’t have to engage in seeing what is happening. It is easy for me to understand people checking out. It is hard to stay in.

Second, I look to the leaders for uplifting thoughts and meaning-making of these incidents so I can call myself to see what I may not be able to from the surface. Dean Thomason has done exactly this with his statement regarding the vandalism.

Finally, I take heart that I am not alone in my outrage and that there are many people who feel as I do. I am not in the minority, and together there is strength to overcome.

Still, there it is. The ugly writing on the Cathedral wall. We will wash it away having acknowledged it was there, but what next?

To that question, I have no answer.